Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana
Easter is one of the most significant holidays on the Christian calendar. It represents the time when Christ died and resurrected in the ultimate service to, and for, humanity. This moment in Christianity, has remained sacrosanct for more than 2000 years and is commemorated with reverence each year.
In 2020, billions of Christians around the world commemorated this sacred time in ways that were unprecedented.
In South Africa since we were on alert level 5 of the lockdown instituted to mitigate the spread of the virus, religious leaders took the unprecedented step to call on people to not congregate in their numbers, but rather to worship in their homes or by participating in virtual services.
It was a sign of the times we were in, that some of the virtual services were carried live on television channels to increase the reach of the services to communities and people who may not have had access to data to attend these services on social media platforms.
Now one year later, we are on the eve of the Easter holiday once again. Having just emerged from wave 2 of the pandemic, alarm bells are being sounded from all quarters in the country cautioning against a laxity of behaviour that may bring on wave 3 of the pandemic.
Christians around the world, once again, find themselves at a crossroads as to how to commemorate this most special of religious holidays. While the collective Christian religious community in South Africa is still in discussions as to how to approach this period, we want to add our voices to call on South Africans to play their part and adhere to the proper wearing of masks, covering the nose and mouth even when in the company of friends and family, avoiding large gatherings, ensuring good ventilation, especially when using public transport and maintaining social distance.
This is a call to a spirit of human solidarity - I am because you are; you are because I am - the essence of ubuntu-botho, a culture of mutual care.
For Christians, Good Friday represents the role of God in absorbing the human pain in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Easter represents the defeat of death and new hope of life in the resurrection of Christ.
This takes on special significance as we live with the pain of Covid-19, and the need for the hope of recovery from its impact, as individuals surviving the virus, as families overcoming grief and depression, and a nation resuscitating the livelihoods of our people in economic recovery.
Good Friday tells us that God is with us in our pain; but it also tells us that the solidarity of Christ with the human condition of suffering instructs us to live the spirit of human solidarity in the prevailing Covid suffering; the resurrection hope of Easter indicates how through the ethos of solidarity we engender the hope of life beyond Covid. This should hold true whatever regime of Covid regulations we shall be under, whether we are able to come together, or we are in stricter lockdown.
We may therefore have to reconcile ourselves with once again celebrating a socially distant Easter. We have known for some time that these restrictions, particularly on people coming together to worship, has had a negative impact on mental health. The sense of isolation from the community that people have come to rely on for emotional sustenance has given rise to what is being referred to as the second pandemic – that of a mental health crisis.
We must recognise however that the Covid-19 safety protocols aimed at safeguarding oneself from infection, also ensure that people around you are safe. This, is the spirit of human solidarity and the essence of ubuntu-botho - the culture of mutual care.
In this spirit we appeal to all to adhere to the Covid-19 safety protocols – as individuals, as small and large business, as taxi operators, as Uber drivers. This appeal is directed to each person, whether Christian or not, to honour this principle of human solidarity that we manifest in Covid protocols compliance.
The spirit of acting in human solidarity and in the spirit of ubuntu-botho, is not a new learning. If we look at the world’s major religions and faiths, each expresses a similar sentiment as to how we must treat others like we would want to be treated in the spirit of common humanity. I take this opportunity to highlight a few of these:
The ancient religion of Jainism says: “One should treat all beings as he himself would be treated.”
Judaism says in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Sikhism says, “We obtain salvation by loving our fellow man and God.”
The Buddhists say: “In five ways should a clansman minister to his friends and familiars, by treating them as he treats himself.”
The Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “We should behave to friends as we would wish friends to behave to us.”
The Hindu Mahabaratha says: “Do naught to others which, if done to thee, would cause thee pain: this is the sum of duty.”
Islam calls on followers to “Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourself.”
We have therefore all had this universal lesson ingrained in us as humans.
So, this Easter holiday, we are urged to heed the embrace the universal dictum of “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Covid-19 has highlighted to us all that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe; that we are in this together; that the virus does not discriminate and that we are all equal before it.
This Easter holiday, people will be travelling to other provinces; people will be having family and neighbourhood events that may involve slaughtering, parties and braais, or cultural rituals. I want to encourage each of us to remember our shared humanity, the universal lesson of loving thy neighbour, to behave responsibly in a way that can avert a third deadly wave of the pandemic.
In support of the Solidarity Funds attempt to drive this message home before Easter, let’s spread the “Stop Corona” message and behaviour. We now all know what it takes to stop the spread of the virus.
• Wear a mask covering nose and mouth; even when in the company of friends and family who live elsewhere.
• Avoid large gatherings, even at worship and at shopping queues.
• Keep physical distance from others
• No handshakes or hugs; it is not bad manners to nod and wave a loving hand
• Wash hands thoroughly with soap & water for at least 20 seconds, or sanitise.
• Don’t touch face with unwashed hands
• Ventilation or socialise outdoors. Meet people outside as our homes may be small for safe socialising.
• Open windows for ventilation in public transport, or when in a car with people you don’t live with.
• Clean cell phone with cloth and hot soapy water or sanitiser - it is very much your third hands!
We all know this; what we now need to do to save the nation is live it. We say to each other, love your neighbour and preach this basic life-saving lifestyle! Let us love and save lives; “Love and Save Lives!” We can avert a deadly third wave but it will require us all to behave appropriately.
* Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana is the secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.